Janis Ian Alan Heineman - Essay

Alan Heineman

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[The Secret Life of J. Eddy Fink is] a real down. It's pretty awful, despite containing some interesting elements. There are only three truly good songs on it: Friends, Misery and Son; I include the latter on the basis of some rich, imagistic lyrics.

Friends is delightful, a loving parody of Dylan's c&w-tinged stuff, performed with exactly the right balance between mockery and conviction (except when Janis breaks up at one point). The words aren't parodic, for the most part, though they catch the flavor of Dylan in early songs like Don't Think Twice and All I Really Wanna Do. And I Did, Ma, on Janis' second album, was pure comedy, and can't be listened to very often; Friends invites rehearing.

Misery is one of the few hard rock things Janis has tried, and it works pretty well: good words…. (p. 19)

[Psycho] is really a shame: it's a bitter, heartfelt and much-needed indictment of the sordid side of the music business, but the words are clumsy (because too strongly felt?). Janis is beginning to labor images of self-prostitution, strong when she first employed them but now losing their impact. Similarly, the metaphor of a narrator (singer) needing a blind man to show him the way, which appears in Psycho, had worn thin eons ago. (pp. 19-20)

But for this record, if you can find copies of the lyrics, you'll get most of what there is to get. I think the next will be considerably more representative, and representative Janis is compulsory listening. (p. 20)

Alan Heineman, "Record Reviews: 'The Secret Life of J. Eddy Fink'," in down beat (copyright 1969; reprinted with permission of down beat), Vol. 36, No. 15, July 24, 1969, pp. 19-20.